SciTech Briefs

CO2 emissions outstrip GDP in 2010

The United States’ 2010 energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were published in a recent report by the Energy Information Administration. The year 2010 marked both the largest annual increase in CO2, and the largest absolute output in tons for the past 20 years. For the first time in 20 years, the increase in CO2 emissions (up 3.9 percent from 2009) was larger than GDP growth (3.0 percent), which is a stark contrast to the 20-year averages (0.6 and 3.15 percent, respectively).

Economists are debating whether 2010 was an outlier or if it signifies a new trend where pollution outpaces economic growth.

Source: Chemical and Engineering News

Novel malaria vaccine still has hope

Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) have shown that a new malaria vaccine protects between 71 and 100 percent of animal subjects in trials. The vaccine was administered intravenously in the studies, unlike a previous unsuccessful clinical study where subjects were given the drug intradermally.

The vaccine, produced by the biotech company Sanaria, is extracted from mosquitoes’ salivary glands, making it the only drug to use the body of a mosquito as a bioreactor. Although there are currently no approved malaria vaccines, NIAID and Sanaria are optimistic that their new delivery method will prove successful.

Source: Science Now

Scientist finds fossils while walking his dog

Five papers in the current issue of Science detail newly found fossils that may be a missing link in the chain of human evolution. The new species, Australopithecus sediba, was recently found by scientists from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. Lee Berger, who discovered the fossils while walking his dog, said that the combination of ape- and human-like features in the fossil are novel. For instance, long fingers are a sign that the creature was a tree-climber, but a long thumb indicates abilities of precision-gripping and tool-making.

Source: The New York Times

High tech ghost town to be built in desert

Plans for building a 20-square mile metropolitan area from scratch in New Mexico were revealed last Tuesday. The city will have urban buildings, suburbs, and everything in between except for permanent residents. It will be used as a testing ground for real-world experiments in urban technology and ideas. Pegasus Global Holdings, a technology and infrastructure development group in Washington, D.C., developed the idea and will privately fund the project. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez has already shown her support, calling it innovative and predicting its economic boon.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Carcinogens, hormone disruptors found in tattoo ink

Side effects from tattoos, such as allergic reactions, are well-known risks. However, the underlying reason behind such effects is largely unknown, which prompted researchers from the University of Regensburg in Germany to identify the chemical components of tattoo ink. They identified phthalates and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as constituents. Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors, and PAHs are known carcinogens. Though the chemicals in tattoo ink remain unregulated, the FDA is currently undertaking studies to assess the effects of these chemicals within the body.

Source: Environmental Health News

New understanding of atmospheric particle formation

Jasper Kirkby and other scientists at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, published a study that may reduce uncertainty in the understanding of atmospheric particle formation. They discovered that cosmic rays, charged particles originating from outer space, drive an increase in new particle formation by a factor of between two and 10 compared to experiments without cosmic rays. The reason: Atmospheric ions, of which cosmic rays are the greatest source, can collide and form a stable cluster of molecules, which can then grow into new particles.

Source: Nature